Guitars In NYC: Fred Frith, Frank Zappa, Jonathan Richman, Robert Cray, Lenny Kaye, Bob Mould, Frank Marino, Jim Hall & Roky Erickson
The Robert Cray Band
B.B. King Blues Club
November 3, 2010
Speaking of darker observations, the twilight realms of diseased relationships have always been a favoured subject in the sometimes fatalistically resonant songwriting of Robert Cray. Over the years, this bluesman's gigs have sometimes been subject to variable qualities, ranging from the intense to the pedestrian. In recent times, though, he has attained a regal peak, playing to the height of his abilities on both record and stage. Cray had already appeared at B.B. King's earlier in the year (March 2010), smoking stronger than their kitchen's barbecue. This swift return was not quite as blazing, but was still packed with prickling vocal refrains and stinging guitar solos. Indeed, Cray's guitaring has such a voice-like expressivity that his waterfalling string statements seem like a continuation of his lyrics. There are certain of Cray's songs down the years that have become classics of forlorn love, or perverted romance. These include "Strong Persuader," "Back Door Slam" and "Right Next Door (Because Of Me)," all of them doom-steeped stand-outs at this gig. Now, from his latest album, "Chicken In The Kitchen" has taken its place amongst them, and was an impeccable choice of opening song.
Bob Mould/Lenny Kaye
November 4, 2010
This double bill of singer-guitarists was an odd coupling of rock generations, although they were both presenting songs that were reasonably removed from the works of the bands that bred them. Lenny Kaye went on first. It's hard to decide who should have been headlining here. Kaye's status might be higher as a longtime sideman to Patti Smith, but his solo existence has had a lower profile, as he self-deprecatingly joked during his set. In keeping with the singer-songwriter vibration, his electric guitar was held at a conservative volume, with most of the freed-up solo licks delegated to his accompanying bassist. Kaye's original material was moderately engaging, and his presentation likable, but this ended up being merely a moderate showing.
In a syndrome that seems to affect performers who have long ago left the influential bands that gave them their rock'n'roll status, Bob Mould's solo sets frequently seem to produce a feeling of frustration. We always yearn for the electric storming of the old Hüsker Dü, their melodic wall of sound. This is not because we are aging nostalgia freaks, unwilling to taste new musics. It's because those recordings often represent the highest point of an artist's career, an achievement which they are cursed to chase forevermore. I'm just attempting to explain the surge of relief at the point where Mould put away his semi-acoustic guitar and picked up his electric. He did this much earlier in the set than has recently been the case. I think that he's feeling the urge to rock out, more and more. An important point to make is that much of his songwriting skill revolves around the layering and sculpting of tuneful noise-cascades, and that this activity sounds best when utilising a feedback or distortion wall, however restrained in volume. Mould's voice is made for this setting. The earlier semi-acoustic songs tended to involve a jangling sameness that's not suited to how folks hear the songs in their heads. Mould is one of those players who we really would like to appreciate more, but it's just a question of circumstance. Interestingly, he wore his semi-acoustic axe slung even lower than his electric, with an amazingly long strap that left it almost at knee-level. Such low-hanging is almost always the province of the electric guitar.
Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush
B.B. King Blues Club
November 5, 2010